Grant allows Pinckney camp for youth with serious illnesses to offer year-round remote programming

A new grant will allow an Ann Arbor- and Pinckney-based medical specialty camp to offer online programming for young people with serious illnesses and their families all year round.

North Star Reach has been awarded a $56,380 grant from Generator Z, a teen-led ideas lab launched by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation in 2020. Generator Z allows teenagers to weigh in on after-school programming needs and opportunities across southeast Michigan and western New York. 

The grant will support the camp's three-part initiative called "Find Your Place, People, and Voice." The programming includes a virtual summer camp experience that just wrapped up last week, remote regular meet-ups, and an upcoming conference focusing on adolescent wellness and mental health issues. 

"We're just so honored," says Ami Walsh, North Star Reach's director of communications. "This is a sizable award for us that will allow us to support our campers and their families in very meaningful ways."

North Star Reach, which is entirely dependent on donations, offers free summer and fall camping experiences for local children and teenagers diagnosed with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. The 105-acre camp is located in Pinckney, with administrative offices in Ann Arbor, and features a medical center staffed by seasoned professionals.

Walsh explains that North Star Reach had quickly pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and transitioning to a virtual format was really the charity's only choice.

"Our kids are immunocompromised so we knew that we needed to make a change to keep them safe while continuing to support them," she says. "We also knew that we had to work together and get insight on what their needs are."

During the pandemic, North Star Reach staff started making more wellness calls to check in with families within their camper community. They quickly realized two important things: that their campers felt isolated and craved more connection, and that campers' parents and caregivers were eager for more support and education. 

In response, North Star Reach has planned a virtual half-day conference for parents and caregivers that will be held in the fall. The organization is also now offering programming year-round for its campers. Every two weeks campers can jump onto an online meet-up and participate in conversations guided by North Star Reach staff. 

"We found out that it's very hard on our kids to wait a whole year later to connect with their friends again at camp, and their parents and caregivers have real needs too," Walsh says. "We've been steadily working to be more innovative and this new grant will support us in doing that."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo by Leisa Thompson.
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